A normal mode-based geometric simulation approach for exploring biologically relevant conformational transitions in proteins

J Chem Inf Model. 2011 Jul 25;51(7):1604-22. doi: 10.1021/ci100461k. Epub 2011 Jun 23.


A three-step approach for multiscale modeling of protein conformational changes is presented that incorporates information about preferred directions of protein motions into a geometric simulation algorithm. The first two steps are based on a rigid cluster normal-mode analysis (RCNMA). Low-frequency normal modes are used in the third step (NMSim) to extend the recently introduced idea of constrained geometric simulations of diffusive motions in proteins by biasing backbone motions of the protein, whereas side-chain motions are biased toward favorable rotamer states. The generated structures are iteratively corrected regarding steric clashes and stereochemical constraint violations. The approach allows performing three simulation types: unbiased exploration of conformational space; pathway generation by a targeted simulation; and radius of gyration-guided simulation. When applied to a data set of proteins with experimentally observed conformational changes, conformational variabilities are reproduced very well for 4 out of 5 proteins that show domain motions, with correlation coefficients r > 0.70 and as high as r = 0.92 in the case of adenylate kinase. In 7 out of 8 cases, NMSim simulations starting from unbound structures are able to sample conformations that are similar (root-mean-square deviation = 1.0-3.1 Å) to ligand bound conformations. An NMSim generated pathway of conformational change of adenylate kinase correctly describes the sequence of domain closing. The NMSim approach is a computationally efficient alternative to molecular dynamics simulations for conformational sampling of proteins. The generated conformations and pathways of conformational transitions can serve as input to docking approaches or as starting points for more sophisticated sampling techniques.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Computer Simulation*
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Protein Conformation
  • Proteins / chemistry*


  • Proteins